Recognized as one of Greater Toronto's Top Employers (2019):
By Richard Yerema and Kristina Leung, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Dec 6, 2018)
Here are some of the reasons why Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP was selected as one of Greater Toronto's Top Employers (2019):
- Blake, Cassels & Graydon recently launched the "BrightIdeas@Blakes" initiative to challenge employees across the firm to contribute ideas to improve client service or efficiency
- Along with maternity leave top-up payments, Blake, Cassels & Graydon maintains a New Mothers Network at its Toronto office and established a "ReLaunch" program to help reintegrate female lawyers who have taken a break from their careers to focus on their families
- Blake, Cassels & Graydon is an active member of the community, providing over 13,000 hours of pro bono legal services to a number of organizations in the past year, including Connect Legal, a Toronto-based not-for-profit corporate legal clinic that connects immigrant entrepreneurs with commercial lawyers for free legal help
Blakes thrives with Bright Ideas from employees
Earlier this year, Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP, known as Blakes, turned to its 850 people in its Toronto head office for ideas on how to "make Blakes work better, faster and smarter." The firm's goal was to promote an innovation culture through a unique and robust program focused on enhancing service to the law firm's clients and improving the workplace.
"We value our people and are always looking for ways to get them more engaged," explains Mary Jackson, Chief Officer, Professional Resources. "Our employees are the ones closest to the action, and we want to tap into their innovative ideas."
Soon to be rolled out to the firm's other offices across the country, BrightIdeas@ Blakes was launched as a challenge to get people excited about sharing ideas - big or small - and working toward a common goal. In addition to boosting employee engagement, BrightIdeas@Blakes is intended to cultivate ingenuity. Says Jackson: "We are living in a time of great and rapid technological change, as well as change in what our clients expect from us. We need to rethink how we do things so we can respond to those changes.
The challenge was a success. More than half the office came together to participate for weekly prizes. The firm received more than 330 suggestions, ranging from a book exchange to improving the firm's business intake process, which was the grand-prize winner of a flight for two to anywhere in North America.
Even how BrightIdeas@Blakes works is innovative. It is much more than a sophisticated suggestion box. Ideas are posted on the campaign's website where staff can also comment on other people's suggestions and mark a "like" for those they consider especially worthy. "The ability to comment on the ideas of others fosters collaboration, sometimes among people whose paths might not otherwise cross in the office," Jackson says.
For Business Development Specialist Jessica Khuong, that collaborative spirit the firm nearly four years ago after working there for eight months as a university co-op student. "I was looking for fulfilling and challenging work, and I was immediately thrown into the fire, working on a project with a senior partner."
After a few months, Khuong's manager encouraged her to apply for a new role within the same department. "It shows the organization cares about your development," Khuong says. "They really want you to succeed, and she pushed me to apply."
Khuong was successful in getting the position, and her former manager remains a trusted mentor. "I have grown here and will continue to grow," she says.
As for the workplace itself, Khuong says people who have visited her high above the city in one of its bank towers are impressed with the spacious layouts with human touches, such as a telescope in the reception area. There are special rooms for meditation or wellness activities and lounges where employees can relax with pinball machines or table hockey. Showers onsite meet the needs of those who cycle or jog to work. The cafeteria offers a daily healthy lunch for just $5.
But more important for Khuong are the caring and supportive people she works with. "We all get engaged in charitable community activities," she says. "It makes me proud to work with people who care about helping others."
And with people who help her grow professionally. "Here I am," she says, "just a few years into the job, and I'm already working on an important project with the firm's managing partner. It doesn't get much better than that."
Recognized as one of Canada's Best Diversity Employers (2019):
By Kristina Leung and Richard Yerema, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Feb 28, 2019)
Here are some of the reasons why Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP was selected as one of Canada's Best Diversity Employers (2019):
- For the past decade, Blake, Cassels & Graydon has provided support, mentorship, networking opportunities, and personal and professional resources for its female employees through the "Women@Blakes" network -- the network maintains an internal website, publishes quarterly newsletters, and organizes seminars and events such as Ted Talks and workshops for women of diverse backgrounds
- In the past year, Blake, Cassels & Graydon partnered with CIBC to create ReLaunch, a program focused on re-integrating female lawyers who have left the workforce for two or more years
- Blake, Cassels & Graydon maintains a strong focus on creating diverse pipelines for recruitment and recently participated in University of Toronto's "See Yourself Here" event for high school students who identify with communities that are underrepresented in Canadian legal education and the profession, such as individuals from low-income backgrounds, students whose parents did not attend university, students of colour and LGBTQ2S students
Blakes goes all out to support female lawyers
Lawyers preparing for maternity leave at Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP, or Blakes, are asked two questions. "When I was planning my leaves," explains Toronto Partner Bonny Murray, "I was asked first, 'What do you need?' and then, 'How can we make it work for you?'
"In fact, that caring attitude characterized the firm's approach to Murray's two pregnancies and maternity leaves over a nearly four-year period. "I have received nothing but support and accommodation," she says. "Blakes recognizes the importance of supporting parents at work.
"While Blakes offers generous financial provisions for maternity - and paternity- leaves, as well as a $175 per-month, per-child daycare subsidy, it provides assistance in other ways as well. Says Murray: "One size does not fit all. Some people need an extended leave, some want reduced hours, others the ability to work from home for some of the time, or a job shift when they return to the office. Each person needs her own plan."
Indeed, to help develop such a plan, Blakes connects parents with additional resources such as an internal support group for new mothers and outside parenting experts and one-on-one professional coaching. "They keep offering resources to make parents' lives more manageable," Murray says.
Accommodating women who want to raise a family is only one way the firm looks after its female lawyers. Blakes has made special efforts for more than a decade, starting with the still ongoing Women@Blakes network, focusing mainly on attracting new clients, leadership opportunities and retention. One initiative, Preparing for Rain, helps mid- and senior-level women associates and patent agents build business development skills.
Murray, a program graduate, praises it for "demystifying" business development. "These days, it's a lot more than golf and schmoozing," she says. "Encouraging women to complete this program is another sign that Blakes values our contribution. If you are talented and want to succeed, they will support you and try to make it work."
Nothing, perhaps, better demonstrates Blakes' commitment to fostering and advancing professional women than a new program started last year. Called ReLaunch, the initiative is aimed at all women practitioners, not just former Blakes lawyers, who have been out of the office for two or more years.
"There are many female lawyers who have exited the workforce, primarily for family reasons, and find it difficult to comeback because they lack current experience," says Toronto Partner Cheryl Satin, who proposed the ReLaunch idea and developed it with senior management. "These women are an underutilized and untapped market - they may not know the latest legal developments but haven't lost their legal or business judgment."
ReLaunch runs for 10 months, the first six of which are spent with Blakes in Toronto, where the candidate is brought up to speed by dedicated mentors. Then, the successful candidate spends four months with CIBC, which, like Blakes, has been one of Canada's Best Diversity Employers for many years running.
The first ReLaunch participant had an extensive legal background but had taken time out of her career to focus on her family. After completing the program, she had several offers of employment. "The point of the program is to reintegrate women into the workforce," says Satin. "Even if the person doesn't come to work for us, it's still the right thing to do. We believe in advancing women in multiple ways, and it sends a strong message that Blakes is truly an organization that supports women and their long-term career development."
For her part, Satin joined Blakes out of law school in 1998 with the expectation of staying just three to five years. "I wanted the experience and then imagined a career in-house or at a smaller firm," she says. "But Blakes has provided such great support for me as a professional and a woman that, 20 years later, I am proud to still be here."